Self-described "R&B tribal" artist Amber Mark owes her poignant lyrics and worldly instrumentation to traveling with her mother at a very young age. It wasn't until she auditioned for her high school's after school band program that the 22-year-old realized she wanted to pursue singing professinally. Since writing, producing, and self-releasing her music, fans have quickly caught on to the New York native's incredibly relatable lyrics and story.
We caught up with the soulful songstress about her impressive debut show, the influence that traveling to India had on her music, and her upcoming debut EP.
OTW: Do you remember the first moment you realized that music is what you want to pursue professionally?
Amber: I didn't know I wanted to be a singer until I was probably 14 or 15. Singing was more of an internal decision that I pursued without letting everyone know. The first time where I felt like I could seriously consider pursuing it was in my high school's after school band program, which I auditioned for. My audition went really well and everyone enjoyed it. We performed cover songs for local events for charity or school.
OTW: What steps did you take after that?
Amber: I started singing and writing a lot. It took me quite a long time to figure out how to write and finish a song. When I moved back to New York, I decided I would try working on a production program. I wanted to get my sound ideas down so other producers would understand it. When I started working with them, they said they understood the sound I was going for, but they didn't at all. From then on, I decided to do it on my own. I know what I'm doing with the program and I understand the sound.
I put "S P A C E" out on SoundCloud because I kept telling everyone I was a singer, but I didn't have any songs they could listen to. After that, I was contacted by a licensing company and a record label.
OTW: So you produce everything yourself too?
Amber: Yeah, and we go into the studio to re-record the vocals. If there's something on the program that I don't know how to do, or if I'm looking for a specific sound, the sound engineer helps me.
OTW: How did you land on the tribal soul genre?
Amber: Those are the two words I've been told. I like to ask what people think my music sounds like. I've always been into Indian sounds because I lived in India for a while, and that's where I got attracted to the instrumentation. When I was writing, I knew I wanted to incorporate it because I traveled to India with my mother, and we really bonded there. I like the sound of tablas, exotic instruments, and the warm instrumentations in their sitars and vocal runs. I've also always been attracted to Bossa Nova.
OTW: In terms of lyrics, do you draw from personal experiences?
Amber: Yeah, writing is like therapy for me to express myself. I have a very hard time expressing myself. I would normally vent to my mother, but when she passed, I bottled it all up. Music became my outlet to express how I was feeling. It's very hard for me to write about things I'm not actually going through. It flows much faster and quicker when it's an emotion that I'm feeling.
I tried to not make it so specific and generalize a lot of the songs so everyone could relate to them. "Monsoon" was specifically for my mother and specific things we've done. That was the song that I felt I got the most response from people saying they've been through similar situations and thanking me for putting the song out. That's the goal: for people to have that connection. I know that when I find a song that I connect to like that, it's the most amazing thing. You want to listen to it 500 times in a row.
OTW: Your mom has a huge impact on your songwriting. What is the most important thing she taught you?
Amber: She would always tell me to surrender to the issue. I have a really hard time doing that–I don't think I'll ever learn how to do that. She was always very patient and flexible with everything. I always admired that about her. She really loved to travel, too. That was her dream in life–to go everywhere and see everything. Nothing stopped her, and she took my older brother and I with her. I'm so happy that she homeschooled me and took me to India because I wouldn't be where I am now, musically at least.
OTW: How was your debut show at School Night?
Amber: The crowd was apparently really good, from what I heard. I was really nervous–I was trying to focus on singing correctly and making sure nothing went wrong. I thought I closed my eyes for a lot of it, but apparently I didn't, according to everyone who said otherwise.
OTW: You seemed comfortable. We were really surprised to hear it was your first show.
Amber: That's what a lot of people told me, but I was really nervous. I wasn't nervous at rehearsals leading up to the show, but the nerves kicked in right before I had to go onstage. I was like, "Holy shit."
OTW: What can we expect from the EP?
Amber: Each track represents one of the seven stages of grief. It was my way of dealing with it. I put "Monsoon," "Way Back," and "S P A C E" where they fit. It worked easily and made sense to me.
OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?
Amber: I like Gabriel Garzon-Montano's sound. He's very minimal with his production, which I relate to since I tend to do very minimal production.
Prem Joshua is a German artist, but he does Indian style lounge music.
Everyone only knows one Gotye song, but listen to Gotye's older album. It's amazing, the production is insane, and his samples are really cool.
Les Baxter from the '60s did a genre called "Exotica" with a lot of Polynesian sounds and tropical percussion. It sounds like something that would be in a James Bond film, if you went on a mission in Hawaii. That's what Gotye took from in his old stuff.
OTW: If you could have have a dinner party with anyone, who would you invite?
Amber: It would be at my godparents' restaurant, and I would invite Q-Tip, Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Gotye, and my mom.
OTW: What is your longterm goal or vision for Amber Mark?
Amber: I used to say I just wanted people to connect with my music. Since that already kind of happened, I want them to continue having that feeling.